Category Archives: triple a

Ballparks used for AAA baseball.

Las Vegas Ballpark, Summerlin, Nevada

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Las Vegas Ballpark, Summerlin, NEVADA

Number of states: still 38

States to go: 12

First game:  July 12, 2019 (Salt Lake Bees 10, Las Vegas Aviators 7)

(Click on any photo to see a full-sized version.)

We encountered Las Vegas Ballpark on our huge National Park Tour in 2019, as it was between Sequoia and the Grand Canyon. (Quoth 10-year-old Steven: “Las Vegas is really a National Park, isn’t it?” Yes, Steven–it is.) Plus, Vegas is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.

I don’t drink or do drugs or womanize, but the gambling is a vice I enjoy: the most likely way I will wind up face-down in a gutter someday (so far, I’ve managed it fine).

Las Vegas with kids is a bit of a different experience from Las Vegas without kids. For starters, we drove in along I-15, and the billboards as we approached were a bit intriguing to our 8- and 10-year-olds.

“Dad, what’s a strip club?” 

“Well, Steven, it’s a place where people pay money to watch people dance and take their clothes off.”

[Pause.] [Umbrage.] [Horror.] “Dad, what is WRONG with people? Who would ever want to do that?”

Noted. Still latent. 

After an afternoon engaging in “baby gambling”” at Circus Circus, we headed across town to the planned suburb of Summerlin to go to the brand-new ballpark. And while I was worried this might be part of the recent disease of suburban flight among ballparks (I’m looking at you, Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves). But this didn’t feel like a suburb. This felt like Vegas due to a number of deliberate choices the ballpark people made, and the result was a delight.

For starters, let’s discuss the name: Las Vegas Ballpark. I thought it was a misnomer, since the team moved from run-down Cashman Field (which was actually in Las Vegas) to Summerlin. But it’s not. It’s corporate naming. The naming rights for the ballpark

were bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and so they paid to slap the city’s name on the ballpark. They want people to visit the city, obviously.

And this place therefore had many touches that allowed it to pass the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. While the Strip isn’t visible from the park, the Red Rock Casino and hotel looms over the park, with its immaculately shining

orange-ish windows.  Look out past right field and we have a set of palm trees in a row, not unlike along Las Vegas Boulevard on the way into the city from the southwest. And then there’s the bar in right field. Yeah, I know that ballparks have bars. But I suspect none of these were quite as nice as this bar. Teetotaling me wouldn’t partake, but this was fully stocked with absolutely everything, as I think any bar in Vegas should be, ballpark or no ballpark. 

Which brings me to my favorite part of the ballpark: the lounge chairs.

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This is the only ballpark I’ve ever been to that had lounge chairs as a part of the park that anyone could sit in. Both in the bar in center field, or by the right field foul pole, there are tons of chairs that one can sit in with their drink or whatever, overlooking the pool, or the ping-pong tables, or the baseball game. As in the rest of Las Vegas, watching people is just as fun as watching the show, and that’s an option.

This leads to a conundrum I face with scoring the park. On the one hand, for high-quality

AAA baseball, I’d like there to be less distraction. But here, there are TONS of distractions, with wacky promotions on the field at pretty much ever inning break. Typically, I’m not a fan of this. But in gaudy Vegas, visual stimulation and tons of shows is exactly what the town is about.  So I have mixed views in this place.

Appropriately, a man behind us tried to start a massive betting pool on whether the throw the home plate umpire tossed to the mound between innings settled on the mound or off of it. I’ve seen this played before: it’s called Moundball. But I have never seen it so enthusiastically advocated for at a ballpark as this man behind me did. Rather than the usual two choices (on the mound or off of it), our guy wanted to set up lines for quadrants around the mound. Did the ball settle in the front left off the mound? Front right? Back center? No thanks: not gonna play. Neither would anyone else around us. And this annoyed our friend, who insisted that at any other ballpark he could get people to lay their money down on the umpire’s throw.

This got our section talking to each other, and we met some cool people who had moved to Vegas from various other parts of the country (this is true of most Vegas residents), and who were interested in my past travels as well as our current trip.  And we nearly got everyone going on one more bet.

See, my kids were picked for the tricycle race.

Right before the game, a pair of lovely young women asked my kids if they wanted to do the tricycle race after the 8th inning. My boys enthusiastically assented. And this set up an interesting question. My older kid is bigger and stronger than the younger one, but the younger one spends at least some of his time riding his bike-with-training wheels (the older one doesn’t care to ride). Oddsmakers would likely set this up at even money. The people around us agreed (although no money changed hands).

In the eighth inning, we headed up to the concourse to meet

with some other people. Once there, we encountered a pair of sisters roughly my kids’ age. 

“Are you here for the bicycle race?” Aaron asked them.

Yes they were. And they were excited. And they really wanted to win because they had a victory dance already choreographed.

That there, my friends, is bulletin board material.

So I started talking to my guys about how they would have to figure out how to work together, since this was clearly a team event rather than the individual event we were anticipating. Steven insisted he did NOT want to work with his brother. I said he might have to.

But then the game operations people came.  Turns out there were three pairs: an additional pair of brothers arrived.

“Okay,” said the game ops person. “So you two are together, and you two…” 

“NO!” Steven shouted. “I do NOT want to be on a team with my brother!”

Fair enough, the game ops guy said. He split the brother pairs and put my son with the older brother. This was a kid about his age. He had the look of the MVP of his Little League team, and I think he figured he had this in the bag.

Leadership. Excellence. He turned to Steven and gave him a high-five.

While I do not take joy in the disappointments and emotionally-rough moments of children, I do have to say that what happened next was simply fantastic and amazing and hilarious.

Little League MVP was ready. He asked Steven, “So, are you fast?”

“Actually, I don’t know how to ride a bike,” my son answered.

I watched this kid’s face as he processed this. He was about to get in a tricycle race, and his partner, rather than his athletic younger brother, was a kid who did not know how to ride a bike.  His expression went from confusion, to anger, to trying-to-be-supportive, back to something like annoyance.

Well, the race was a hot mess anyway. Half of the kids were told that the second leg would be heading back towards the left-field foul pole, and half of the kids were told they would keep heading down towards home plate. Aaron’s legs were too short to reach the pedals, so a worker wound up pushing him to the exchange point. Steven decided to run next to his tricycle instead of riding it.

“Nobody said we had to ride it,” he said, working a loophole in the rules. In the end, only Aaron’s team went the right direction, and out of the pandemonium, he got the win (unless that aid given by the MC was illegal). None of this mattered, of course, since everyone got a pack of baseball cards as a participation trophy, but still, neither participants nor referees nor audience knew what was up.

I guess it’s fair to say that’s my feeling about Las Vegas in general. And in the end, this was a tremendous night: really good baseball in front of a happy, packed house that was enjoying the kind of warmth that only happens in a desert after dark.

Vegas, baby. Tons of fun.  The kind of thing that I’d enjoy doing as a part of my next Vegas journey. They managed to get this one totally right.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL: 9/10.

All of the wacky weirdness of Vegas was on display here. Loved this: loved the casinos and the lawn chairs and the de facto ring girls running the promotions.

CHARM: 4/5

Vegas is “charming” in its own way. I can’t give it a perfect score, because kitsch isn’t the same as charm, but this still worked.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 4.5/5

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Loved this new mascot (great upgrade on the 51s). This guy’s name is Aviator. Not pictured is Spruce. I don’t know the whole history of aviation in Las Vegas, but I trust it’s there.

SPECTACLE: 3.5/5

In a way, these were fantastic. A little anarchic, but excellent. In other ways, I think they did too much. I’d rather a few really good promotions than the constant confusing action they gave.

AESTHETICS: 5/5

I was taken aback by how beautiful and gleaming this place was.

PAVILION 4/5

Not much going on in the history department, and there were spots beyond the left-field wall that were dull, but good beyond that.

SCOREABILITY 4.5/5

Loved all the detail they offered. Needed some scoring decisions, however.

FANS 3.5/5

Some were quite nice. Some were a bit obnoxious.  Most left early and missed a crazy ending.

INTANGIBLES 4/5

A little hot, and a little busy. But man, this place was fun, and we got an awesome game to boot.

TOTAL 42/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

The Bees come back from several deficits, relying on a few home runs. When down to their final strike in the 9th, trailing 8-6, Jared Walsh blasted his second homer of the night way past anything in right field to give the Bees a 9-7 lead. They added one more and had a one-two-three bottom of the ninth for the win.

Jose Rojas raked for the Bees, with a double and a homer.

Eric Campbell hits a three-run dinger for the Aviators. Sheldon Neuse drives in three using a double and a single.

Written August 2019.

 

Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania

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Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA
Number of states: still 38

States to go: still 12

First game: June 27, 2019 (Rochester Red Wings 8, Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7)

 

(Click on any image to see a full-size version.)

I don’t get to games late very often, but on this day it couldn’t be helped. After a killer walk-off crazy game at Citizens Bank Park, Rob and I had to grab Matt at the airport and then head north through some horrible traffic to get to this one. We did well to arrive at the end of the first inning. Because of the uncertainty of it all, we didn’t have tickets, so we got to buy on the way in. 

“Any preference?” the worker asked.

“Whatever you think is best,” I replied.

We were placed down the right-field line, which is fine, but wound up staring straight into the sun to see the batter. Even with shades and a ballcap, we wound up also having to use our hands to block the sun. It was even a safety issue: once the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was. The sun is obviously not the IronPigs’ fault, but I do wish that the guy selling us the tickets had told us about it. 

The ballpark itself had some promise. It sits atop a pretty cool hill, and I liked the promotion of the park to that level, like it was some European castle. I didn’t notice any real views, however, from the seats or on my wanderings, so it didn’t seem to

have any real advantages to it.

Kudos to the IronPigs for packing them in on a Thursday night. Not many empty seats (which may explain our location, of course). But there was a weird cultural thing going on that was especially clear in comparison to the Phillies game from earlier that day.

In Philadelphia, there was minimal interference with the game. Sure, they had their wackiness (jet-ski races on the scoreboard, trivia, 50/50 raffle, that sort of thing), but it was on the scoreboard as an option rather than blasted over the speaker, creating an expectation that everyone would watch. It was easy to watch the game and not feel like it was a

promotions transference device.

Not so much at Lehigh Valley.  There was wackiness all over. And while I might have put up with that at the rookie level, at triple-A, less is more.

Case in point: the team name. I don’t have much trouble with “Iron Pigs” as a name: it seems that “pig iron” is an important factor in the creation of iron that Allentown is best known for. Thumbs-up. But oh man, they focused on the absolutely wrong part of the team name. Everything in the park was about the “pigs” rather than about the “iron.” There was bacon in the team logo, pigs and bacon all around the ballpark, a pig mascot with no hint of iron around her (that I noticed, anyway).  And the sounds. Oh, the sounds.  Between pitches, even, I’d hear pig grunts and snorts. A “sooeee” call. Outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, I felt like this was disruptive. I could handle it once as a joke. But repeatedly?  Over and over again, that pig grunt kept going, and, in my eyes anyway, it was disruptive and annoying.

And fireworks.  No problem with fireworks, but the IronPigs had a “more is more” attitude about them. They set them off after every run the home team scores. This led to a delightful moment when Red Wings reliever Jake Reed balked in a run. The crowd had no idea what had happened, which is fine, I guess: balks are confusing. But then, as everyone was turning to each other and saying “What’s going on? Why is everyone standing around? Is that guy going home?” there’s a big BOOM!  Balk fireworks. First time for everything, I guess.

It was some kind of soccer-related promotion night–appropriate in the heat of the 2019 Women’s World Cup (and the day before a huge US/France quarterfinal). This meant that they continually played clips from the sorta-funny

Will Ferrell movie Kicking and Screaming on the big screen, and that they also had soccer-themed promotional contests on the field. It seemed pretty clear that the person they had running one contest wasn’t that familiar with soccer, however. Kids were trying to head soccer balls into trash cans for a prize. But instead of “Try to head the balls into the cans,” she said “Try to head-butt the balls into the cans.” Head-butt?  Really?  Did she want the kids to go all Zinedine Zidane on each other? (A worthy promotion, perhaps…)

The problem here was that the entire crowd seemed to follow along. No real interest in the game here. Kids were screwing around,

everyone was chatting, and I didn’t get a sense that baseball was important there. That seemed to be popular, but again, the net result wasn’t something I was a huge fan of.

Rob and I, punchy from the red-eye and in our second game of the day, managed to get by (I had gyros) while Matt watched the AAA affiliate of his Twins have a strong evening.

A good day at the ballpark on the whole, but my overall instinct is that the IronPigs got too cutesy. Sandwiching this around the baseball-first atmosphere of their affiliated siblings, the Phillies and the Reading Fightin’ Phils, showed how off this was compared to a pair that were right on. I hope the culture changes a little, but given the attendance, I doubt it will. Different strokes for different folks, but as this is my website, they get a lower score than the other strokes do.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 3.5/10.  Not much to be said about Allentown or Steel Country here. They got it exactly wrong: too much pigs, not enough iron.

Charm: 3/5.  Some nice bits all around, and a lovely sunset.

Team mascot/name 3/5:  Would have worked better if they’d focused on iron rather than pigs. Extra credit for naming the mascot FeFe. Love nerdy puns.

Aesthetics 5/5:  Lovely location on top of a hill. Quite lovely.

Pavilion 4/5: Nice here, although a little cutesy in places.

Scoreability 4.5/5:  Great stuff here. Only one minor slip-up.

Fans 2/5:  This was the group that would have done anything the PA said. Especially compared to what I saw in Philadelphia the previous day, this was an annoyance.

Intangibles 3/5:  The sunset overrode a lot of negatives.
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Total: 27.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  Rochester builds a big lead, in part based on Zander Wiel’s big bat (three hits and a home run). But the IronPigs fought back, mostly with a Phil Gosselin three-run shot, to tie. But Rochester plates two in the ninth on an error and a wild pitch, then holds on for the win.

Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Georgia

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Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, GEORGIA

Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12
First game: August 19, 2018 (Buffalo Bisons 4, Gwinnett Stripers 2)

 

Click on any image to see a full-size version.

I splurged for our game at Coolray Field, getting the box seats immediately behind home plate that included free food before the game. Turned out to be a really good idea, too, since it was, I believe, about a bazillion degrees with ten thousand percent

humidity that afternoon. (81 degrees and overcast, the box score says).  Hot dogs and chips and water: it was a fine pre-game meal that meant we could stay in air conditioning until the game began.

Of course, I did my traditional circumnavigation of the ballpark before all that, and found a highly unusual setting for a ballpark. Right past the right field line: an apartment building. Had I been so inclined, I could have tossed popcorn into the pool. Pretty good view of the park from the upper floors, too: if ever I move to the northeastern suburbs and exurbs

of Atlanta, perhaps I will select one of those apartments in which to live. 

The apartments lay out a critical issue with the ballpark, however, and it is the same issue that I had with SunTrust Park: the antiseptic nature of the location. This ballpark is both everywhere and nowhere. To get there, we drove past strip malls and

housing developments that could have been any neighborhood outside of any city. And we drove for a long, long time: highways and arterial roads that kept finding more neighborhoods and more strip malls. Finally: the ballpark.

The ballpark didn’t have much going on in the way of local color that I noticed anyway: I appreciated the Braves pictures down in the air conditioned room that we paid top dollar for, but beyond that, this was a pretty low fail in the “do you have any idea where you are” test. And not only did we have no idea where we are, but people didn’t seem to know where the

ballpark was, either. Only 1,667 came out to watch Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. visit on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah, it was hot, and yeah, it’s a church afternoon. But I suspect that even the biggest fans in Atlanta (minus these 1,667) just didn’t want to drive all the way out there, especially with a simultaneous Braves game in a different antiseptic suburb.

Fun afternoon for us, though. I do enjoy being in the front row. Although I didn’t factor in that Bisons’ players would be

blocking out view from time to time, I still loved the proximity to the play, and the ability to hear conversations between players (the silence of the many empty seats aided with that). Matt even struck up a conversation with a Bisons’ player: I think it was Dwight Smith, Jr.. Matt asked him if Buffalo was cold. Smith’s answer: not so bad in the summer. Hell, I didn’t need a AAA ballplayer to tell me that.

But I still am impressed with how regularly Matt can strike up conversations with strangers. I recall his discussion with

one of the workers in the air-conditioned palace. She mentioned how she was a teachers’ aid, and that this was her second job, and that she still was struggling to make ends meet because of health care costs. How Matt manages to elicit that so easily, and then make her feel his concern, and all within a literal minute: well, I’d like to bottle it up.

My conversations were not nearly as important or, I have to admit, even as verbal. But my conversation was with Vlad.  He headed into the on-deck circle in the first inning, and this transpired:

ME: [makes eye contact]
VLAD: [does not back down from eye contact]
ME: [lifts chin quickly, the international sign for “what’s up”]
VLAD: [also lifts chin quickly]

That’s right: I was acknowledged by one Vladimir Guerrero, Junior. He was batting .345 with an OPS over 1.000 when this happened, and I believe his average went up thereafter (although not in this game). I hope he remembers me. In fact, I am confident

he does. When he gives his Hall of Fame acceptance speech about a quarter of a century from now, do not be surprised when he mentions this moment.

Shout out to the young woman from Saskatchewan, whose name I have forgotten, who was seated next to us and put up with our foolishness. She was a long way from home, but sets aside a trip to ballparks every year so she can take photographs. I hope that she had some really good ones from this hot, hot day.

In summation:  fun day.  Dull ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL:  3/10.  I guess I can give some points for hot and humid, but there truly wasn’t much going on here that said “Georgia” outside of a few photos in the air conditioned room.

CHARM: 2/5.  Felt like a hotel lobby: clean, clear, locationless.

SPECTACLE: 4.5/5.  Nice here. Not much except for families throwing the ball around on the field prior to the game. Good and quiet: appropriate for triple-A ball.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 3.5/5

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Love the name Stripers (it’s a fish). Very appropriate, and I bought a hat: which I don’t often do on these trips. The mascot, Chopper, I am less sure about. Turns out he’s a groundhog, but I had to check his Twitter feed to learn that. There, I no longer feel the connection. Feels right if the team moves to Punxatawney, though.

AESTHETICS: 2.5/5

Meh.

PAVILION AREA 3.5/5

I remember that walk around the park, and how long it was: often a ways back from the park. Not much going on in the way of history or exhibits that I remember, though.

SCOREABILITY: 4.5/5

No issues here, although no real challenges, either.

FANS 2/5

Points for my Canadian friend, but where was everyone else?

INTANGIBLES:  3.5/5

Thanks, Vlad!  Quality play brought this up a bit, but miserable heat brought it down.

TOTAL: 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Decent pitchers’ duel between Kyle Wright and Mike Hauschild brings us to the 8th. There, the Bisons’ Jonathan Davis homers to untie the score. Reese McGuire then scored Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on a single to tack on a run. 

Two hits and an RBI for Sean Kazmar, whom I had last seen 8 years earlier as a Portland Beaver.

 

Written June 2019.

Spring Mobile Ballpark/Smith’s Ballpark, Salt Lake City, Utah

Spring Mobile Ballpark/Smith’s Ballpark, Salt Lake City, UTAH

Number of states: 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2010 (Tacoma Rainiers 10, Salt Lake Bees 4)
Most recent games: July 16, 2019 (Salt Lake Bees 12-6, Sacramento River Cats 5-8, doubleheader)

(Known as Spring Mobile Ballpark for my first visit, Smith’s Ballpark for my second.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

2010 brought about perhaps the most ambitious 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip in Hamann family history.  The first couple of years brought us the nearest

ballparks–Spokane, Tacoma, Salem-Keizer.  One year we flew to northern California.  But a friend’s wedding in Montana on July 12 led us to make 2010 a huge drive–all the way to Utah.  Add a toddler to the mix and the desire not to drive more than 4-5 hours in a day, and you’ve got yourself quite a trip.  It could have backfired horribly, but it actually went very well.  Three days from Portland, we found ourselves staying in downtown Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from the gorgeous Spring Mobile Ballpark.

The ballpark’s location is as excellent as you’d want any ballpark to be.  Since Salt Lake City has the fortune of being west of the mountains, unlike its unfortunate PCL cousin in Colorado Springs, there are gorgeous Rocky Mountain panoramas

visible from every seat in the ballpark.  The setting sun reflects off the mountains, making for an excellent distraction during the game.  And its quick, accessible location from downtown SLC is also quite welcome–I was able to walk there from my hotel in about 40 minutes, but there’s a ballpark stop on SLC’s light rail system, so that walk wasn’t really necessary.  While circumnavigating the stadium, as I like to do, wasn’t possible (maybe because of fireworks setup), there was still a good atmosphere set up for the July 4 game, with people lining up outside early.

My family was among those lining up early, since for the first time in my ballpark travels, I had secured general admission seats for a game.  We didn’t know we would be doing this trip until all other seats for the big fireworks game had sold out, so we grabbed our baseball picnic blanket, a

couple layers of clothing, sun goop, and a few toys for the boy, and prepared to set up for the game.

I knew that there would be a pretty big rush for the best spots in general admission, so we got to the ballpark early.  Michelle put Steven on our monkey leash, which was admired by our line-mates.  In fact, as she let him burn off steam on his leash, one octogenarian woman approached Michelle and complimented her on the choice to use the leash. She used to get a lot of lip from strangers back in the day, she said, so she was happy to see someone using it.  (This was an especially refreshing compliment after a batty old bag said something shitty to us about the leash the previous day at the Boise Zoo.)  Anyway, all was right with the world:  we were at the front of the line, and I knew where I wanted to sit on the

outfield berm.

But then something went wrong.  About ten minutes before the gates opened, an usher came by to zap everyone’s tickets.  Ours were invalid.  Huh?  I think they sent us multiple copies of the tickets and I printed out the wrong one.  I was a little annoyed when she told us to go to the main ticket office to get everything straightened out, since we’d lose our choice spot in line that I planned ahead for.  My wife–usually the one who gets upset at customer service–told me to chill out, that I could come back tomorrow if we got a lousy seat.  So I said goodbye to my wonderful line spot and went to the ticket booth, who worked out the problem.  We then got back to the back of the line.

Here’s where I became a big fan of the fine people of Utah.

While I was in the back of the line cursing my luck just a minute or two before the gates opened, incredibly, a woman came back to us from the front of the line and told us that nobody would mind if we went back to our previous spot. 

“You earned it…you were here early,” she said.  Highly grateful, we went back there and offered to buy anybody who wanted it something to drink.  Everyone declined.

Thanks, Utah.  I deeply appreciate your generous spirit…and actively seeking us out to bring us to the spot I wanted.

We immediately zipped to exactly the spot I wanted…about halfway up the berm, about thirty feet off the foul pole.  I figured that people would eventually edge in front of us, and they did…but from their spot, they had to peer through the fence.  Had we been up higher, we would have had to deal with many, many people walking around, in, and out in front of us.  Here, we almost never did.  People mostly honored (though not always, as the photo shows) the edict to stay back from the wall, so the view wasn’t actually all that bad. 

But the atmosphere, not surprisingly, wasn’t too baseball-based out on the picnic blankets.  And, while I’d be bugged by that in the stands, I was totally fine with that out on the grass.  It was a carnival-family atmosphere there that was kind of nice, and while that might sometimes bother me, enough people watched the Bees get slaughtered that one could follow the game without appearing strange.  It felt right to watch the ballgame surrounded by families hanging out together–I got the warm fuzzies.

Which led me to another realization.  I can barely remember what I did on July 4th before Michelle and I began this tradition eight years ago.  I seem to recall two ways to celebrate.  One was watching while your crazy neighbor set off illegal fireworks while listening for the cops.  The other was

finding a sanctioned show, setting up a blanket, and killing time for several hours while the sun set, sincerely hoping that rain didn’t ruin everything.  As a kid, I found those hours mercilessly boring.  Really, going to a ballpark just gives you a game to fill all those hours in with.  It was a nice feeling.  And, this being Utah, there were a lot of kids around.  Some watched the game, and some didn’t, but all were well behaved, perhaps because those who wanted to whale on each other were segregated off to the other side of the grassy hill, out of range of both the picnic blankets and the ballgame.  So really, what the fourth of July general-admission ticket does is provides something to do for the waiting period before the fireworks.  Sold.

The Bees did a fabulous job of providing stuff to look at between innings without negatively impacting the baseball experience.  There was nothing to interrupt the baseball, which was particularly important at such a high level.  And between-innings distractions were rather rare as well.  It wasn’t until after the game that I realized how masterful the Bees were at handling fan experience.  The fireworks didn’t get started until about 15-20 minutes after the final out.  In most ballparks, they might play a little music, but they mostly just make you wait. 

At Spring Mobile Ballpark, instead, they had several fan-participation promotions during the gap.  This shows such common sense that I can’t believe more teams don’t follow suit.  At the moment that people might get bored, when there’s no baseball to be seen–that’s the best possible moment to do some silly promotions and put them on the scoreboard.  It was a splendid idea and well-executed.

Speaking of promotions, this particular game featured a marriage proposal.  Now, I’m 100% on record as being against a ballpark marriage

proposal.  But this one was a little, um, strange.  There was a competition where two people had to sing the jingle for Whipple Plumbing (which is to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” with “Whipple” where “Day-O” would be…I assume it’s ubiquitous in Utah for everyone to know it).  This man sang it (poorly), then a woman sang it and won.  But then it became clear that the man and woman knew each other because then the promotions guy said “Well, there’s one more thing to do…” and then let the man propose to the woman, who said yes.  I certainly wish them well…but I think they’ve set up a future problem.  When people ask them how he proposed, they’ll have to use the words “Plumbing” and “promotion” in their response.  In all honesty, even among ballpark proposals, this one is on the bottom side.  Why must all of our important life moments now be public rather than private?

Beyond this man’s marriage proposal, there were a couple ofsmall irritants I found at the ballpark.  While the stadium’s positioning next to the Rockies cements its local feel, I think they could have done better on the inside of the park to make this a place more

definitively Utahan.  For instance, they had many homages to baseball all-stars up throughout the ballpark.  But there was no connection to Utah.  I’d much prefer “Hall-Of-Famers from Utah” or “All-Stars who played in Salt Lake City.”  As it is, it felt incongruous.  More incongruous were the strange movie posters all around the joint.  I don’t care how much money they get for the posters, they didn’t fit in.  Additionally, they were for month-old movies that surely had already succeeded or failed at the box office on their own merits.  Who would go to get some nachos and decide they needed to see a film?

Still, there was much to love about this place, and its high score is richly deserved.  In fact, I loved it so much that I returned the next day, dropping $24 for a behind-home-plate ticket while my wonderful wife took care of the baby in the hotel.  But there was a major test that night…the baby was majorly cranky, and when I got a text from wife-at-her-wits-end, I left the game in the fourth inning–before it became official.  So I can only give myself credit for going to one game here, but I think I proved that, as much as I loved Spring Mobile Ballpark, I love my wife more.

I hope to return here.  It was simply gorgeous.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
I’d like a little more in the concourse to tell me I’m in Utah:  the baffling Hall of Fame baseball photos celebrate baseball history, but not local baseball history.  Nevertheless, you just can’t argue with that mountain view.

Charm:  4/5
Again, the view.  The ballpark itself is not terribly unique, but it’s still lovely.

Spectacle:  4.5/5
The Bees have mastered the art of well-timed promotions that do not detract from baseball.  And the fireworks show is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5


“Bees” is completely appropriate to Utah.  The mascot himself, Bumble doesn’t do too much for me (dull name), but isn’t too bad, either.

Aesthetics: 4.5/5
Lovely view.  Minor deduction for the ballpark itself being not gorgeous, but with the mountains, who cares?

Pavilion:  4/5
Like the circumnagivability of the place, and the way they segregate those who want to whale on each other from those who want to watch the game.  Would like a bit more local flavor.

Scoreability:  4/5
Nodded off for a ball/strike call once, and could use some guidance on WP/PB. But fine.

Fans:  5/5
Lots of great people.  Wonderful human beings in the ticket line did my family and I a wonderful favor at absolutely no benefit to themselves.  They made their city and state look wonderful.

Intangibles:  5/5
Can’t argue with that first night there…a beautiful night, a fantastic pitching performance, and the best fireworks show I’ve seen at a ballgame (and I’ve seen a few).

TOTAL: 41/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Rainiers’ Michael Pineda, a 21-year-old making only his 3rd Triple-A start, steals the show.  He throws 6 perfect innings before getting knocked around a little in the 7th, but appears to be a stud in the making.

Chris Woodward and Mike Carp provide the lion’s share of the offense.  Woodward gets three hits–two off battered starter Fernando Rodriguez–and Carp hits a mammoth home run over our heads in right field.

Tons of offense at my 2019 visit. Jose Rojas goes 4-for-4 in the opener with two doubles and two homers. Taylor Ward CRUSHES a ball at least 460 feet past the bathrooms in left center.

Aramis Garcia hits the game-winning 2-run homer for Sacramento in the seventh (and final) inning of the nightcap.

(Written July 2010. Revised August 2019.)

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, COLORADO

Number of states: 28
States to go: 22

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 11, 2008, first game of DH (Colorado Springs Sky Sox 6, Portland Beavers 5, 8 innings–scheduled for 7)

(Security Service Field is now known as UCHealth Park. It switched from Pacific Coast League baseball to Pioneer League baseball in 2019.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

My first minor league ballgames were in Colorado, at Mile High Stadium, 

But, according to the rules, my quest to get to a minor league game in each of the 50 states didn’t officially begin until 2003, so this necessitated a trip to Colorado Springs in August of 2008.  I was taking my bride to my 20-year high school reunion in the Denver suburbs, and it was very easy to take the jaunt down I-25 to see our local team, the Portland Beavers (who my wife rooted for vociferously) take on the Sky Sox.

There, we found a great ballpark in a highly unfortunate location.

It’s not the ballpark’s fault that it faces east (as is the convention for ballparks everywhere) and

therefore does not afford a view of the Rockies.  Indeed, it’s not really the ballpark’s fault that it’s located quite a ways east of the city and of the mountains, and therefore doesn’t really have any natural Colorado feel to it at all (eastern Colorado is not what one thinks of when one thinks of Colorado).  But the view beyond the outfield fence of endless tract housing is depressing to say the least.  When I’m pinned between strip malls and condominiums, I don’t have any feel for where I am.  The rule for ballparks is the same as the rule for real estate, and Security Service Field strikes out on three pitches when it comes to location, location, location.

However, the ballpark itself was quite lovely if one didn’t look beyond the outfield fences.  It has many touches I enjoy.  Visiting ballplayers walk past the kids’ area to get onto

the field, thus allowing for autographs.  The kids on the grassy hill are sedate and watching the game, probably because the Sky Sox, while not immune to promotional shtick, put baseball first.  And the retired numbers from past Colorado Springs teams are an especially nice touch–they bring us back to a local level that tract housing can’t.  So does the US Olympic flag flying under the state flag.

Security Service Field is a pretty small ballpark for AAA, which I like.  Rarely does a fan get a chance to be so close to AAA talent–and a ballpark of this lesser scale (it felt like a class-A or AA ballpark) is a pleasant surprise in the high minors.

Sox the Fox, the Sky Sox’s mascot, was simply wonderful…as energetic as any mascot I’ve ever seen.  He started the day by doing a

backflip off of a golf cart and didn’t stop moving the entire afternoon.  He actually did a couple of things that made me laugh–rare for a mascot.  I say this even though he gave me some grief for wearing a Mariners hat.  I was in the front row behind the dugout (prime mascot territory) and he removed my hat and pretended to urinate in it.  A little blue humor never hurt anyone.  But it was his athleticism that most impressed me.  He’s as good as I’ve seen.

This particular day featured a doubleheader for the Sky Sox…my pregnant wife’s second doubleheader in four days.  (The first wasn’t a scheduled doubleheader…it

was created by a rainout the night before.)  Thunderstorms gradually rolled all around us, with ominous, distant thunder leading me to wonder whether we’d be able to get one game in, let alone two (which were both slated for 7 innings).  Sprinkles occasionally would hit near us in what was as close to a muggy day as anyone can get in Colorado’s dry climate.

At some point during the fifth inning, my bride turned to me and asked the following:

“You know what would be better than watching a baseball game under the clouds?”

I shrugged.

“Watching the Olympics in our hotel room.”

Pregnancy, altitude, and doubleheaders don’t mix.

But still, my bride was a fantastic trooper.  The game went into extra innings (meaning the 8th), and in the top of the 8th, the skies opened up.  The thunder wasn’t too close, and the umpires were eager to get at least one ballgame in, so the game continued in the downpour.  Everyone in the ballpark headed up to the sheltered area behind home plate…and almost nobody left, either because they didn’t want to miss the end of the game or because they didn’t want to run through the rain.  Colorado storms usually don’t last too long, and this one passed quickly, but still, most of the crowd headed home, including Michelle and I.

Still, I give the crowd and the Sky Sox credit for a good experience and a nice ballpark.  It’s just a shame that experience and ballpark couldn’t be next to mountains instead of next to suburban blight.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 4.5/10
The Sky Sox do well to get the score this high, actually.  I’d have no idea where in the U.S. I was based on what I can see from the ballpark, but Colorado-themed concession items and retired Sky Sox numbers prevent this score from going far lower.

Charm:  2.5/5
Again, when I walked into the place, I thought this score might be a zero, but the Sky Sox put on a very nice show.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A bit too much for AAA ball, but oh, that mascot was something else.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5

“Sky Sox” is a fine name for a Colorado team, and Sox the Fox also a fine name…and the guy in the outfit earned this score with all his running and jumping.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
Ballpark is OK…the view really, really dull.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  4.5/5
The Sky Sox did a fine job.  I especially featured the large, prominently-displayed lineups on the concourse.

Fans:  4/5
I can’t blame them for going home after the first game…to be fair, we did too.  (But also to be fair, they weren’t pregnant.)

Intangibles:  2.5/5
Lots of good here, but I’m afraid what I’ll remember is the tract housing.

TOTAL:  31/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

An incredibly dramatic ending.  Cedric Bowers uncorks a wild pitch in the downpour in the top of the (extra) 8th inning, scoring the Beavers’ Peter Ciofrone.  But the Beavers’ Edwin Moreno couldn’t seal the deal, as Sky Sox catcher Adam Melhuse crunches a 2-out walk-off home run to give Colorado Springs the victory.

(Written August 2008.)

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KENTUCKY

Number of states:  19
States to go:  31

Number of games:  4
First game:  July 30, 2006 (Toledo Mud Hens 6, Louisville Bats 1)
Most recent game:  June 14, 2014 (Louisville Bats 1, Gwinnett Braves 0)

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

First of all, check out that picture up there.  Seriously.  Do not Windex your screens.  Have you ever seen such a damn hot place?  The heat practically busts through your screen.  Temperatures for this

late-afternoon game–a 5PM start on a Sunday in July–were in triple-digits. Public service announcement: THE THIRD BASE SIDE IS THE SHADY SIDE. SIT THERE.  I was on the first base side, and therefore, my recollections of the place are going to be as hazy as that picture. Everything I remember will be, to say the least, impacted by my broiled brain.

That’s a bit of a shame, I think, because under other circumstances, I probably would have liked Louisville Slugger Field more than I did. The park has a lot going for it. First, and most notably is its location. It’s just off the river and a not too far from downtown, and both are visible from the seating area (although the Ohio is on the other side of a wide road–the bridges are more therefore more visible than the water). It’s a nice ballpark of the new generation, with all the positives (nice location, good amenities, ability to see the game while getting food or desperately-needed water) and negatives (a bit similar to others of its generation, a few too many sponsors and sponsorships, and a damn

carousel…no ballpark in the universe should be permitted to have one).

I give the team credit for a good name for its stadium and team. “Louisville Slugger Field” is a nice means of getting both sponsorship money, local color, and baseball history worked into one name, and “Bats” is a decent play off of that. I seem to recall the team was named “Redbirds” in my youth, but with the Cardinals long gone, it’s totally reasonable to junk that and to have a more locally-appropriate name.

Local color was noticeable throughout the ballpark as well. The “Kentucky Baseball Hall of Fame” is housed on the premises. There are Cooperstown-style plaques for particularly noteworthy Kentuckians (Pee Wee Reese, Rube Waddell, and Jim Bunning were three that stood out

to me). There’s also a lengthy bit of Louisville minor league history, focusing on decade-by-decade rundowns of local teams. I’m always glad to see who’s passed through a particular town on their way to stardom, and what teams happened to come together to see success along the way.  The Bats seem to get the appeal of that.

Louisville itself, which I had no impression of prior to my arrival, impressed me. I got into town at what I thought was three hours before game time to spend a little time at the Muhammad Ali Museum.  Immediately upon my arrival in Louisville from Nashville, I discovered that, even though I had driven more or less directly north, I had gone from Central to Eastern time.  So I didn’t have the time to enjoy the city that I would have liked, and that’s too bad. The Ali Museum looked lovely, but I only arrived about a half hour before closing.  Oh well–worth checking out the Louisville

Slugger factory/museum, right?  Closed for a private party. The main drag of what looked to be old downtown looked like a place to have a good time, but by the time I’d stepped into two closed or closing museums, I was too hot and annoyed to care. But I won’t hold a grudge; Louisville looked like a fine place to go.

Quick guess: who’s the subject of the sculpture outside of Louisville Slugger Field?  Sorry–wrong.  It’s Paul Hornung.  Yeah, I didn’t guess it either.  It was probably the only non-sequitur in a place that otherwise did a fine job of respecting baseball.

I encountered this funny situation in my pregame circumnavigation of the field.  I spotted two kids faced with this very intimidating sign at the bottom of the left-field berm (or, to put it another way, on the spectator side of the left-field wall):


This is, of course, quite a bummer for any kid who’s at the ballpark and wants to play catch. No throwing of any objects?  OK.  So I watched two kids roll a baseball along the cement path by the wall. On the third roll, the ball hit the crack in the cement and bounded upwards, over the fence, and onto the field of play, leaving two perturbed kids with very little idea what to do next.

The heat did not prevent the Bats from pulling out all stops to put on a decent show.  For starters, the Indianapolis Colts’ cheerleaders made the drive down I-65 to do some dancing for us all.  Under most circumstances, I would take a look at their skimpy uniforms and think “Gosh, how alluring and pleasant.”  On this occasion, however, I thought: “How practical.” I’d have dressed that way myself if I felt that I could pull it off.  I doubt it, though…I don’t have the chest for it.  Also, the Bats had a wacky pre-game deal where they would send a dog out onto the field with a bucket of baseballs for the umpires.  At first, I felt for the dog and was ready to call the ASPCA on the spot.  But then, later in the game, the dog provided the umpires with cold bottles of water.  That’s very, very kind of the Bats.  And of the dog.  Good dog!

I sat next to some very friendly (and very, very rural) folks for a few innings, and enjoyed talking to the guy.  He’s a Reds fan who takes his kids to one game a year. I just wish the kids had wanted to watch the game: after the hundredth time running in front of me and making me move my feet so he could run by, it got rather old.

So, even though the weather conspired against

me this time, as it would for subsequent games in Peoria and Pittsburgh, I can see through that and be complimentary towards Louisville Slugger Field.  The best part of the game, I will have to admit, was the part where I was ordering a Sprite and water (not mixed together) and peering at the game over my shoulder. But even beyond that, I was able to sense that this was a nice ballpark with fine fans and a decent atmosphere in a city with a good deal of character.  I’ll be back.  I hope it’s in April or May, when I can likely enjoy it more.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8/10
Sure, the place is a cookie-cutter, but you can’t argue with that river or that downtown view.

Charm:  4/5
Not too bad here.

Spectacle:  4/5
Pretty good–not overbearing.

Team mascot/name:  4/5


Here’s Buddy Bat getting the snot beat out of him at a kid’s party.  I like both Buddy (maybe a tad commercial?) and the punny name Bats.

Aesthetics:  5/5
Gorgeous place with a nice view.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  4/5


From the Technologically Advanced Does Not Mean Better Department:  The Bats put the lineups on a readerboard in the concourse.  I thought it was a cool thing to do…until I realized there was no way I’d be able to write them all down (the screens weren’t on nearly long enough). This was countered by the nice, updated scoring and such they had on their scoreboard.

Fans:  5/5
The fact that people showed up at all on this miserably-hot day means they earn the maximum score.

Intangibles:  1/5
Sorry, Louisville fans, but the intangibles for me were that I felt like I’d been trapped in a closed tanning bed with hot jelly donut filling poured over my body–for nearly 3 hours.

TOTAL:  38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Josh Phelps’ three-run homer in the ninth puts the game away for the Mud Hens.

Chad Durbin pitches eight innings of three-hit ball to pick up the win.

Chad Bentz (pictured) pitches an inning and a third for the Bats. I notice something about him from my angle…and realize that he does not have a right hand, and has a delivery which includes him slipping a glove onto his pitching hand, much like fellow one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott.  Unfortunately for Bentz, he’s the pitcher who gives up the home run to Phelps.

In 2013, Wil Myers hits a home run for Durham only a few days before he is called up (I assume for good) by Tampa Bay.  But he is overshadowed by the Bats’ Neftali Soto, whose 4th-inning grand slam puts Louisville ahead for good.

(Written December 2006.)

Greer Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

Greer Stadium, Nashville, TENNESSEE

Number of states:  still 18
States to go:  32

Number of games:  1
First game:   July 29, 2006 (Salt Lake Bees 7, Nashville Sounds 4)

(Greer Stadium was no longer used for baseball as of 2015.  It was demolished in 2019.)
(Click on any picture to see a larger version.)

The best experience I have ever had in a ballpark was my rehearsal dinner–July 29, 2005.  Exactly a year later, I had another marvelous moment.

It sort of happened in San Diego, and it turned into a negative experience.  I had a shot at it in Batavia, and

I blew it.  But in Nashville?  On July 29?  Destiny.

I caught my first foul ball.

Bottom of the first inning.  Jonathon Rouwenhorst pitching. Vinny Rottino batting.  Rottino couldn’t catch up to Rouwenhorst’s pitches.  He

kept sending foul balls down the right field line, where I sat.  I got the glove ready.  Then, it happened.

I’m not very good at judging fly balls, so I’m glad Rob was there.  Not long after the ball left Rottino’s bat, he shouted:  “I think that’s you, Paul!”  The ball started by heading away from the plate, and then started arcing more parallel to the foul line, right along where I was.  I stuck out my glove and intercepted the path.  Bingo!  I caught a real-live foul ball.  On the fly.  In the glove.

My section, and three sections surrounding me, cheered loudly and lustily.  I greedily took it all in by raising both hands.  “Thank you!  Thank you!” I shouted.  No kids came up to me asking for it, and that’s good, because after

waiting a quarter of a century and some 200 games to catch one of these, I wouldn’t have given it up.  I attempted to re-enact the catch, but the resulting picture is poor…the glove was actually in front of me for a backhand stab.  I generally was giddy for the rest of the game.  Rest assured that I’ll try to get out every July 29 from now on!

Needless to say, Vinny Rottino is now my favorite player in the majors.  The Brewers called him up about a month after I caught his ball, and I’m hoping he’ll stay up in 2007.  (2009 Update:  He didn’t stick, and was traded to the Dodgers in July of 2009.) Minor leaguers, remember:  hitting a ball that I catch ALWAYS positively impacts your career.

It’s a good thing that I caught that foul ball, because the ballpark was a snoozer beyond that.  Were it not for the huge guitar scoreboard and the name Sounds, this place would have had absolutely no indication of which of the 50 states we were in.  The view beyond the outfield fence was a non-descript neighborhood to end all non-descript neighborhoods.  There was nothing thrilling to look at.  Add to that a too-crowded concourse, and it’s abundantly clear why the Sounds have decided

to move to a new ballpark by the river.

I did appreciate one thing about the concourse:  the way that the concession stands were named for past Sounds.  I always enjoy the nods to past players who have passed through, and Dibble’s Den, Bye-Bye Deli, and Magglio’s Pizza are a fun way to do that.

Sometimes, when a team goes to a place that is, as fellow Network of Ballpark Collectors member Tim calls it, “a new cookie cutter,” I can’t help but feel something has been lost. Sometimes I feel like there’s something to the old-school places, but not Greer Stadium, I’m afraid. I don’t have any vivid memory of the place.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Beyond the guitar and the name, very little.

Charm:  2/5
Again, not much other than the scoreboard.

Spectacle:  3/5

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Here’s Ozzie.  He’s a carbon copy of the Denver Nuggets’ Rocky.  He does nothing for me.  The name Sounds, however, is excellent.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
This is an unattractive place with no real view.

Pavilion area:  1.5/5


Dull and crowded, but I like the names of the establishments.

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  5/5

Intangibles:  5/5
Catching a foul ball trumps everything.  Simply everything.

TOTAL:  29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Salt Lake spots the Sounds a 4-0 lead, then comes back to win.  Mike Eylward’s sixth inning 2-run double erases the last of that lead.

Matt Wilhite of Bowling Green, Kentucky, got the win in front of many friends and family.

Vinny Rottino goes 0-for-4, including a double-play.

(Written September 2006.)

Cooper Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

 

Cooper Stadium, Columbus, OHIO

Number of states:  17
States to go:  33

First and last game:  July 25, 2006 (Columbus Clippers 9, Durham Bulls 1)

 
(Cooper Stadium is no longer in use for baseball as of the 2009 season.)
(Click on any image to view a larger version.)
 

To be sure, there were quite a number of issues with Cooper Stadium.  Its age shows, and not gracefully.  I dislike the ancient PA system, the charmless pavilion, and the less-than-understated Carmina Burana playing

as the team takes the field.  However, this July evening turned into a marvelously fun evening with loads of friends–an evening I was pleased to have.

Rob, Yolonda, Michelle and I made it to Cooper Stadium after a day at South Point, Ohio (near the tri-point of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia).  Buddies Joe and Alison gathered loads of friends and led us to the tenth row behind the third-base dugout.  As happens so many times when I get together with buddies for a ballgame, there were many bizarre and memorable events to pass along.

For starters, the whole bunch of us nearly died in the second inning.  The Clippers’ Jeff Karstens pitched to the Bulls’ Elijah Dukes.  He must have fooled him very badly on a pitch, because as Dukes missed for strike two, he released his bat and it went flying behind him.

And right towards us.

Right the hell towards us.

Even if I had wanted the bat and been foolish enough to reach up for the bat, it likely would have just hit my forearms.  So I joined all of my friends in ducking down very low.  I did not want to get hit by a flying bat. 

As buddy Joe (wearing the Orioles hat in the photo) put it, “I’d prefer to go the rest of my life without the little voice in my head saying ‘you’re not ducking deep enough’ ever again.”

As we dusted ourselves off and made sure all of our appendages remained, and as we confirmed that the people a couple of rows behind us were also unhurt, we missed Dukes grounding out to third.  We also missed Dukes being ejected by the home plate umpire.  This ejection led the Devil Rays to finally get so fed up with Dukes (in part because he had earlier said that “the major leaguers shower in Perrier while we get sewer water”) that they suspended him for the rest of the season.  I appreciate the D-Rays’ priorities.  Only AFTER he threw a bat at me did they toss him.  Indeed, perhaps

the D-Rays knew that I was a sports official–in the year when Delmon Young chucked a bat at the home plate umpire, I would merely be the latest official a Durham Bull threw a bat at in 2006.

When I wasn’t in danger of dying, there were a few things I liked about Cooper Stadium.  They did a fine job respecting the Clippers’ history, which, as of 2006, meant New York

Yankees’ history.  I love ballparks that have lineups from past years on display, and Cooper Stadium had artists’ renditions of lineups from every year from the Clippers’ history as a Yankees’ affiliate.  The mixture of all-time greats with who-the-heck-is-thats is one of my favorite parts of being at a ballpark, and Cooper Stadium does it well.  As of the end of the 2006 season, the Yankees ended their relationship with the Clippers.  I do hope that they keep the old Yankees’ pictures up; when I’m at a minor league ballpark, I want to see the local minor league team’s history, not the history of the major league team.  Wichita, Tulsa, and High Desert all celebrate past minor leaguers from who played at that park even after affiliate shifts.  We’ll see if the Clippers have that same sense of history, or if their new parent club orders the relics of recent Yankee history taken down.

No other aspects of the ballpark blew me away.  I was a little taken aback by the fact that a cemetery is visible beyond the outfield fence.  When my mind and eyes wander during a Clippers’ game, they wander to headstones. A particularly massive home run at Cooper Stadium would not impress the fans so much as remind them of their mortality.  The pavilion is typically dank and dull.  They try to make it up with a miniature golf course.  I’m not a big fan of such unnecessary distractions from the baseball–any fan who’d prefer golf to

baseball isn’t a fan at all–and on top of that, the mini-golf course is so poorly and hastily assembled that it’s actually worse than it could be.

This is also my second visit to a Yankees’ affiliate, and the second time that the team played “New York, New York” after a victory.  I hated that just as much here as I did in Battle Creek.  We’re not in New York, and these aren’t the Yankees.  Let’s keep that music special for Yankee Stadium.

Occasionally, it’s a close race to actually be a charming old ballpark–the old, covered seating with beams obstructing views is a blast from the past–but I’m afraid that there are just too many negatives.  Nevertheless, I’ll probably be back. With so many friends so close by, I’ll certainly be back to see if they do any upgrades–and if those upgrades will maintain the current sense of history.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
The ballpark’s strong sense of Clippers’ history earns points here.

Charm:  2/5
Not much.  Old in and of itself does not mean charming, and Cooper Stadium demonstrates this.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Not bad for the triple-A level, although the promotions they had were occasionally annoying.

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Joe, me, and Krash the First Mate.  Not pictured:  Lou Seal.  Nothing offensive or impressive about any mascot-related matters.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Sort of old and dusty–and the view is of a cemetery, which is creepy.

Pavilion area:  1.5/5

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  5/5
Great friends.  I look forward to going to the new place with them.

Intangibles:  2.5/5
I had a fun night, but in the end, this place didn’t leave me with a positive impression.

TOTAL:  29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Clippers rough up the Bulls’ Doug Waechter for four first-inning runs.

Columbus’s nine runs include five unearned runs off of four Bull errors, including a pair by B.J. Upton.

B.J. Upton and Bronson Sardinha homer.

Jeff Karstens pitches 7 innings of 1-run ball.

(Written August 2006.)

Knights Stadium, Fort Mill, South Carolina

Knights Stadium, Fort Mill, SOUTH CAROLINA

Number of states:  14
States to go:  36

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 22, 2006 (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 4, Charlotte Knights 3, 12 innings; game suspended at 3-3 after 10 innings and finished on July 23 without me)

(Knights Stadium was no longer used for baseball as of 2014, and was demolished in 2015.)
(Click on any image to see a lager version.)

After a day hiking to Ellicott Rock (the place where Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina meet), we got to Knights Stadium a little late…the gorgeous roads through

the western Carolinas take a little longer to drive across than we had anticipated.  This led to an unprecedented event in my ballpark history:  unexpected free parking.  We were in a long, long line to get into the parking lot, worrying about whether we’d make the first pitch.  We got out a wallet to pay for parking, but when we got to the edge of the parking lot, they simply waved us in.  They passed up on hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars to make sure that the lion’s share of the huge Fireworks Night crowd could get in on time.  I appreciate that.

We approached the stadium as they sang the National Anthem.  It was a hot night with a foreboding storm approaching.  Outside the ballpark–very active on this fireworks night–I encountered what had to be a lost, disoriented, and terribly hot Santa Claus.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wearing shorts before, with the possible exception of the claymation Santa reclining and relaxing in Peter Cottontail. Michelle and I made it to our seats just as the first batter, Michael Bourn, was retired.

I’m afraid the ballpark had very little special about it.  While I liked the grassy areas down the foul lines, on the whole, Charlotte felt too big to be charming,

but too small to be expansively impressive.  It was a bizarre tweener with an identity crisis.  Where many AAA ballparks try to be like small major-league ballparks–which is its own problem sometimes–Charlotte seemed to go a different direction and instead tried to be a large minor-league ballpark, at least physically.  The two decks looked like something I’d see at a small park, only bigger.  On the other hand, the ballpark took some of my least-favorite aspects of big-time parks and incorporated them.

Let me take one example of this and make it as clear as I possibly can, hoping that ballparks everywhere heed me:  There is absolutely no reason, ever, anywhere, for any ballpark to have a carousel.  I’m fine with kids running around and jumping, and I can even live with the climbing wall.  But a carousel?  Ridiculous.  The idea of taking kids to a ballgame is to get them to like baseball, not to avoid it.  From now on, if I see a carousel in a ballpark, the ballpark will be penalized.  Severely.

Scoring was difficult at Knights Stadium as well.  They couldn’t keep track of who was at bat very well, and were completely absent on a key wild pitch/passed ball decision.  I find that these are the toughest

plays to score from the stands, but the most frequently ignored by scoreboard people, which is too bad.  Beyond that, however, the Knights did a decent job putting on a show.  Nothing special–not old-school reserved, not new-school fun–just serviceable.

What I’ll remember most from this night is wondering if we’d get a game in on time.  A big storm was building up to our north and west, and we could see lightning off on the horizon past left field.  Was the storm passing us to the north, or was it eventually going to nail us?  The game chugged along, and in spite of the light show, it was rain free.  But when Charlotte tied the game in the bottom of the eighth, and extra innings became imminent, well, it became unlikely we’d get to see the game end.  The umpires held out through some impressive rain in the bottom of the 10th as the Knights got two on with one out…but a double-play ended the inning,

and the tarp came out immediately.  We didn’t kid ourselves by trying to wait…the big storm was going to end baseball that night.

Much to my surprise, the Knights went ahead and had the fireworks show anyway while everyone ran desperately through the downpour to their cars.  I wish I were a more talented photographer, because we were treated to a display of fireworks going off above lightning strikes…very impressive indeed.  Also impressive was how well my wife drove through the thunderstorm to the hotel.

The Knights are building a new downtown ballpark to replace Knights Stadium, and this is a case where one is warranted.  The location will be better, and the personality-free Knights Stadium will likely not be missed by any fans.  But I’m thankful I got there…it enabled me to cross South Carolina off my list with only a very short jaunt across the border.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Were it not for the thunderstorm, this score would be even lower–but truthfully, there was no way of telling where we were.

Charm:  3/5
Not much, but not totally impaired here either.

Spectacle:  3/5
A fair number of promotions–perhaps too many for AAA.  But the fireworks in front of the lightning stay in my mind as a heck of a spectacle.

Team mascot/name:  2/5

Homer.  Dumb name.  And what’s up with a dragon representing the Knights?  Don’t knights slay dragons?

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Some trees.  Again, the score is aided by the fireworks-with-lightning.

Pavilion area:  2/5
Nothing doing.  It’s mostly cement, and where it isn’t cement, they’ve put in a carousel.  Ick.

Scoreability:  2/5

Fans:  4/5
I liked the huge crowd, their enthusiasm, and the way they stuck around, even though many of them ran for cover at the first tiny sprinkle. Come on, Knights fans…in Seattle, we picnic in sprinkles.

Intangibles:  2/5
The ballpark, on the whole, did nothing for me.

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre took a 3-0 lead on a Josh Kroeger triple, but could not hold onto the lead.  They win in the 12th on a Brennan King home run…but by then, I’m most of the way to Bristol.

Ruben Rivera homers for Charlotte.

(Written August 2006.)

Raley Field, Sacramento, California

Raley Field, Sacramento, CALIFORNIA

Number of states:  still 13
States to go:  37

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 3, 2006 (Salt Lake Bees 2, Sacrameto RiverCats 0)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

I’ve never heard anybody talk about Sacramento as a destination before.  Indeed, I’ve never heard anybody talk about Sacramento at all before, unless listing state capitals.  For those reasons, I was not expecting to be impressed by Sacramento.  I was, and I especially was impressed by its ballpark.

For starters, the location is ideal.  They’ve placed the ballpark on the river, just across from downtown, much like in Wichita.  From every seat in the ballpark,

and even from much of the concourse, there’s a fantastic view of the bridge that would lead you right to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, if you were so inclined as to pay him a visit.  Sacramento’s downtown rises up behind and around the bridge, so the ballpark passes the important “is there any question where you are” test by virtue of sheer location.  Approaching and leaving the ballpark is a major part of the experience here.  I highly recommend parking downtown and strolling along Sacramento’s river walk on the way to the ballpark.  River walks are beautiful no matter where they are, and Sacramento’s is near loads of fun shops and night spots.  Then, cross the bridge on the south side (the stadium side)…otherwise, you’ll be forced to do a fairly lengthy detour back under the bridge (there wasn’t a convenient way to cross the street near the stadium).  I’d recommend against getting to the ballpark too early, since there’s minimal shade to wait in by the southeast entrance.  I’m always a fan of the experience of a ballgame starting on approach (Boston does this well in the walk from the T station, and Seattle isn’t too shabby either, at least in the approach to the ballpark from the north).  The experience of approaching Raley Field is as wonderful as that of any minor league ballpark I’ve experienced to date, and that’s important.  The ambience of a sold-out crowd approaching a ballpark is unmatched, and the RiverCats’ Independence Day Fireworks celebration had the crowd in a festive mood.

I especially appreciated this ambience on this trip, as my wife and I finished off our 4th annual Fourth Of July Baseball Road Trip, and our first as a married couple.

My wife and I have pretty much decided that the annual Fourth of July Baseball Road Trip will be a continued tradition, including after we have children.  How will the kids respond to this tradition?  I can just picture them complaining about it, saying “How come we can’t stay home and barbecue like normal people?”  But I bet we can make this into a wonderful tradition.  I’ve spent 4ths of July enjoying packed houses all along the West Coast.  I’ve watched people from four states ooh and aah at fireworks displays.  When the trip is timed right (as it was this year), I’ve seen multiple fireworks shows in multiple ballparks,

with almost every night a packed house.  I often feel like a stealth American, sticking an American flag into my hat and watching yet another small town or small city celebrate the USA.  I’ve grown to love the tradition.  And since families need traditions, even if my kids whine about this one through their teenage years, I think that they will look back fondly at these when they happen.  Of course, they’ll all be recorded on this site.  But I digress.

Inside the ballpark, Raley Field has several touches that help to expand the festive feel of the approach to the ballpark.  First, general admission tickets will get a seat on the grass beyond right field, and that space was totally packed on this day (although the spots in the shade went first).  There doesn’t appear to be a bad seat at Raley Field; the grandstand consists of just one level of seats beneath some skyboxes, including a batch down the right-field line that appears to include a Tiki-themed restaurant.

The pavilion area is quite lovely since it provides a mostly-unobstructed view of the field of play and even of the Sacramento skyline. 

I like the ability to get my concessions without missing any play.  And while I’m hardly a ballpark foodie, Sacramento’s concessions were notably good:  the nachos I bought from the Mexican place had guacamole, black olives, and sour cream–not just the usual orange goo in a plastic-corner-cubby.  My wife was stoked at a chance to buy a root beer float, but alas, they ran out.  Still, the idea that it is possible to do this at a ballpark wins my raves.   Also, the pavilion area had several nice, baseball-related touches.  There are two fairly cool three-dimensional bits of art depicting fans leaning out of the walls to get a better look at the game.  Also, the lineups are presented on sandwich-cutouts shaped like umpires, which I appreciated.  So rarely are there positive depictions of umpires in the world–these provide a nice change.

With quality AAA baseball in such a gorgeous setting, the RiverCats don’t need to do much in the way of distracting promotions, and for the most part, they don’t, which I liked.  On this Independence Day celebration, they did some strange stuff on the scoreboard, asking trivia questions and providing random facts about our nation and its presidents.  It was fun to play along during breaks in the action.

Beyond that, the baseball was central.

I was a little bit troubled by the self-declared “Team Mom” seated in the front row of our section.  The idea of the RiverCats needing a team mom is a little bit creepy.  I can understand the purpose of both declared

and undeclared team moms at the rookie and short-season A levels.  There, you’ve got kids who are fresh out of college, fresh out of high school, or even (in the case of some Latin American ballplayers) younger and on their own for the first time.  The need for host families in a small town and someone to help these young men with what might be their first forays into rent and laundry are welcome.  My wife’s experience working for a short-season A team backs this theory up.  But the youngest kid on the team was nearly 24, the median age of the RiverCats players was 26, and a significant minority of them were in their 30s.  None of them were fresh out of college (nobody starts their career at Triple-A), all had lived at least one year (and usually far more) on their own, and I’d wager that at least a third–and just as likely more–were married.  Put the orange slices away, lady–these players don’t need or want a team mom!  My wife got the sense that the players, as they passed this woman hooting at them, were merely giving polite “whatever, she’s harmless” nods.

What was stranger was the way the “Team Mom” decided to use her self-declared position to advance a political aim.  Sounds bizarre, but check it out:  She held up a sign that read “RiverCats and fans want our troops home safe.”  Of course, that’s true of all Americans–we all want the troops back safe–but when she held up this sign in July of 2006, there was significant debate over exactly when and whether our troops should pull out of Iraq, and the sign could easily have been interpreted as calling for troop withdrawal.  Even though I’m a pacifist liberal, I found this sign creepy.  Not because she was expressing her opinion at the ballgame–that is her First Amendment right–but because she drew in players and fans, some of whom might disagree with troop withdrawal.  To review, she invented a position for herself with the team, and then abused that self-declared position.  Yuck.

But that’s a minor gripe.  It doesn’t detract from the ballpark, which was a fantastic experience not only before and during the game, but also afterwards.  After the fireworks, we joined massive throngs of foot traffic back across the bridge into Sacramento, and walked over a boat parade in progress on the Sacramento River.  Boats were festooned with flags and stuffed with revelers, but more impressively, were completely covered in patriotic lighting.  Light bulb-covered boats stretched along the river until it bent out of sight.  It was a fantastic way to end the holiday celebration.

On the whole Raley Field is a tremendous ballpark–absolutely as good as its lofty reputation.  It’ s enough to justify making Sacramento a part of a California vacation, and in the process, you just might be pleasantly surprised at what you find along the river.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
It’s right next to the Sacramento River and has constant, gorgeous views of downtown Sacramento.  Can’t complain there.

Charm:  4.5/5
Lots of nice touches throughout.  Loved it here.

Spectacle:  4/5
A few, always in their place.  Baseball was central, but wacky stuff was there to be had.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5


Dinger and caretaker.  The name “Dinger” has been done, but I like “RiverCats,” and Dinger clearly is one.

Aesthetics:  5/5
It’s a good-looking place with great views.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Nice here–excellent food, nice feel, nice art, virtually always in view of the field.

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  4.5/5
A packed house of nice Californians.  I got a good vibe.

Intangibles:  5/5
A gorgeous night, a great game, a fantastic view, and great food.  This is a gem.

TOTAL:  43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

It was all about Salt Lake pitching, as five hurlers (Nathan Bland, Matt White, Matt Hensley, Marcus Gwyn, and Greg Jones) combined on a two-hitter.

Howie Kendrick drove in both runs with an 8th-inning double.

(Written July 2006.)